After leaving the island chain of Las Perlas we bashed south westwards away from the Gulf of Panama in search of the south east trade winds. Of course we haven’t had the luxury of waiting for a suitable weather window as we are so late already embarking on this passage, so with south west winds 10-15 knots forecast we beat to windward and against a current running up to 1.5 knots at times. This made initial progress slow, tacking as and when the variable winds dictated and on a couple of occasions when they were so light we resorted to motor sailing just to make some westing. The reason for this route and not a direct one, is to follow the great circle route which takes advantage of the trade winds and currents.
Early morning on day 7 at around 3° 51 North of the equator we finally found the south east trades, with squally conditions and a great 20+ knots from the SSE we reefed the main and eventually the jib sail to prevent waves from smashing the hell out of it and hunkered down for a surprisingly bumpy ride. Despite reducing sail Joy cracked on at a steady 8 knots on a reach loving her new powerful main sail. Although we have a few teething problems that we still need to sort out on all three new sails (main, mizzen and staysail), they have improved Joy’s sailing performance. Then late afternoon on day 8 just as we dropped below 3° N our contrary current changed and we found the sweet spot with a favourable current adding up to 1.2 knots to our already cracking boat speed.
Sailing 130 miles north of the Galápagos Islands we steamed westwards and started encountering some entertaining bird life. Boobies of all variations followed us religiously, using Joy not only as a fishing aid catching flying fish that leap out of the water as Joy approached, but also as a roosting perch overnight and sometimes during the day. One night we had a family of three sleepover, two on the bow and one on top of the main mast. It was a choppy sea and quite amusing watching them struggle to balance in the moonlight as they settled down for the night. At first light the next day the two on the bow took off for a reconnaissance flight, one returning to hassle sleepy head on top of the mast who clearly felt he hadn’t had such a restful night. Needless to say the deck, coach roof and solar panels have been somewhat decorated with fishy grey paste, these buggers pooh a lot. I took some photos of a beautiful red-footed booby on the bow one morning preening his feathers, he had an ‘egg-shell’ blue bill with orangey-red and black stripes on the base. A stunningly handsome bird with vivid red webbed feet. We have also seen many small Petrels which resemble swallows, black with a distinctive white stripe at the base of the tail, they flit and swoop on the surface of the water apparently picking up small fish scraps and jelly fish.
Life on board Joy for Jez and I continues as normal except our night watch pattern from 9pm to 9am gives us just two bursts of 3 hours sleep, less if sail changes or reefing is required during the night. I have made yoghurt, granola and ginger beer and Head Chef continues to knock up some pretty awesome evening meals as well as homemade bread rolls and mayonnaise. Our fresh produce is lasting well, so no danger of developing rickets just yet. However I have made a serious dent in my kilo jar of mini snickers so rationing may be on the cards soon. The rod has been providing some tasty fish too, a couple of small tuna-type fish and a couple of mahi mahi have topped up stocks so fish has been on the menu quite a bit.
Adding to the excitement of sailing a lump of heavy steel through the water at 8-9 knots at times on a reach in reasonably settled weather has been the sighting of a search and rescue helicopter, he popped up on AIS doing 95 knots early one morning seemingly following a search pattern relating to wind and current. It took a few hours for him to come into view beneath the thick cloud cover, he didn’t make radio contact just pushed on searching. We kept a sharp lookout just incase, having only seen three or four large fishing boats in the waters for some time now. Maybe it was just a training exercise.
For a few days we had an annoying swell on the aft quarter, giving a motion akin to being in a washing machine on the anti-crease cycle. Unpredictable and tiring, we are glad of the many new handholds we have created in the new cockpit enclosure. The last two days have improved somewhat and we have had enough sunshine to top up our batteries after cleaning the bird pooh and salt spray off the solar panels. Last evening brought the most fantastic rising moon I have ever seen, a huge orange fireball rising above the horizon. As it gained height over the horizon the strips of dark clouds in front played tricks, at first giving it a bandana and smiley face, then a moustache and neck tie. Jez wanted ‘some of what I had just had’ but apart from a very good batch of ginger beer I put it down to a healthy dose of ’16 days at sea’ imagination.
So over 2,000 miles covered as the booby flies from Panama, we have around another 900 before we head across the ITCZ and pick up the north east trade winds which will take us to a Hawaiian landfall some 2000 miles after that. Good job we get on so well together!